‘Atari Mania’ Review: A Bizarre Retro Gaming Mixtape – Forbes

‘Atari Mania’ is out on PC, Nintendo Switch, and Atari VCS on October 13.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022, Atari’s milestone year is building up to the release of its long-awaited Atari 50: The Anniversary Collection, which promises over 100 classic games and the definitive “interactive journey” through the company’s history. However, something much more intriguing from the gaming icon arrives on Switch, PC and VCS this week–and for half the price.
Atari Mania, which has received comparably little fanfare, is a microgame-based take on the developer’s deep collection of past hits. Splitting its gameplay 50-50 between old-school action-adventure exploration and quick-fire, WarioWare-style minigames, it’s an idea in line with the developer’s modern-day desire to put a new spin on its popular franchises, much like its genuinely enjoyable Recharged series.
You assume the role of The Caretaker at the Atari Vault, a museum-like building that stores its games and their history, just as catastrophe strikes: a dead pixel appears, unleashing hellish monsters that capture and corrupt characters from games like Centipede, Circus Atari, Outlaw, and Crystal Castles.
Your task is to defeating these beasts by taking on quick-fire, mashed-up Atari games in a series of increasingly difficult and super-speedy challenges, while unlocking and collecting everything across the building’s many floors, to restore the Vault to its day-to-day glory. The concept sounds great, and eventually proves to be a lot of fun–even if it takes some getting into.
You expect Atari Mania to be playful and silly from the start, but it initially proves dull. The Atari Vault doesn’t feel like a shrine to the company’s past–greyish-blue colors dominate the building, while largely empty rooms regularly offer few trinkets or exhibitions. If this was a real museum, you’d hope it was free.
The story and early gameplay are also slow to warm to. Initially, your role as caretaker sees you sweeping up and talking to characters from Atari games who come out to play, Night at the Museum style. Conversations, humor, and worldbuilding feel a little drawn out. When everything goes sideways and you finally face your first boss–one of many black-and-red monsters that look like early drafts for Doom’s Cacodemon–the core gaming feels a bit uninspired, with repetitive trials based around done-to-death games like Pong.
However, patience is a virtue, and these introductory tutorial sequences soon give way to a much more ambitious and enjoyable experience. After playing it a little too safe, Atari Mania introduces an ever-growing selection of titles, which can be wildly different–for example, combining Wizard, Dark Chambers and Sentinel–but these also fuse with games you’ve already collected along the way, create ever more weird and wonderful challenges.
As a result, elements of earlier titles like Breakout or Outlaw may arrive out of nowhere on top of your new crop of classics, which are already fused into bizarre and clever tests; you might find yourself playing as an enemy; sometimes, bosses themselves invade the game and affect your controls. The deeper you delve into the game, the more it seems to reward you.
Action-adventure sections of ‘Atari Mania’ can often look overwhelmingly dull.
Failure is an option, but only for so long. If you lose a stage, you still move forward, unless you fail at the final challenge, in which case you’re bumped back an additional level. You will fail, too–Atari Mania can be a cruel mistress, and even hardcore arcade fans will find battles challenging.
You’re regularly thrown in at the deep end with vague missions. Controls aren’t displayed on screen; you just have to hope you figure them out in the mere seconds you’re given. What’s more, some challenges are punishingly quick, meaning you have to act as soon as the timer starts. The new lick of paint that Atari Mania gives its classic games shouldn’t lull you into a false sense of security–these tests can just be as demanding as their inspirations were in arcades of the 70s and 80s, right down to their twitchy controls and high skill requirement.
Between these gaming sections, and in true action-adventure style, you’re forced along a narrow path through the Vault that increasingly widens as you pick up new tools to unlock once-blocked areas. Atari Mania’s boss battles each end with the reward of a new item that grants you an ability; magnets move metal boxes, grappling hooks can pull open doors, and jetfuel can fill generators. Before you know it, you’re solving new puzzles across dozens of rooms in search of new collectibles, trials, and story exposition.
Final boss battles, in particular, can require a little luck.
You also begin to restore a little color by collecting various posters of game covers–even if they’re only limited to one per room–alongside full-detail game manuals won through minigame battles with mice, for some reason. These facets can feel like box-ticking exercises, but the allure of 100% completion is strong, and it’s great to learn even more about the games you’re playing.
Atari Mania isn’t without its issues. On PC, the build feels a little unstable–more than it should, given the game comes in at under 800MB. The most noticeable issue is rampant screen tearing; V-sync occasionally feels non-existent between rooms, but is mercifully absent during minigames. Exiting and re-entering boss battles can force the game to get stuck in a loading loop–something you might find yourself doing regularly, because difficulty spikes can be brutal. Sometimes, success hinges more on luck than skill.
However, for dedicated retro gaming fans and newcomers alike, Atari Mania packs a lot of good ideas into this budget celebration. For the most part, it executes them well, and there’s a good chance you’ll be introduced to some old classics along the way. It isn’t the most memorable game of the year–chances are, between Recharged and The Anniversary Collection, it won’t be the most memorable Atari game of the year, either–but if it clicks, you’ll get value for money from its $20 price tag.

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